I believe in living an Authentic Life, by this I mean one based in being present and conscientious, in truth and honesty, practicing gratitude, empathy and compassion, and being faithless (I’m still grasping this one, but it’s not about religion). Since I started my journey of self discovery, which is so intertwined with finding my Truth and revealing my atheism, I have been moving closer and closer to being more my Authentic self – I finally feel connected and at peace with who I am, still knowing there’s a lot to learn about me.
Religion denies us the opportunity to find ourselves, it isn’t about seeking out “truth”, but rather accepting someone else’s.
When I was young (a child) and accepting of Christianity, I always felt out of place. Not just at church, but even in the real world. It was as if, being myself was wrong… Having an inquiring mind, wanting to understand the world I found myself in, asking questions about how and why things were the way they were; these are things that a “christian” should not be focused on – “God’s work first, Family second, everything else after!”.
I am naturally an introvert and introspective to an almost (if not) obsessive degree. I preferred being on my own, and too much contact with people always sent me into an unhappy discomfort, almost melancholy. But Christians believe you should just leave your troubles to “god” and be “happy” in your doubtless faith, even if it doesn’t really solve things. As someone who was and still is very sensitive to my own emotions, as well as others, I often became subject to a gloomy and sad disposition. I’d cry often, get called names because of it, or be bullied by family and other kids and adults who wanted me to “Be a MAN! Boys don’t cry!”. Inside me I wanted to show the world that I was soft, fragile, kind and sensitive, and accepted for it… I just wanted people to let me be who I am, not a husk painted in the colours of society.
Christianity demands compliance. It’s based in group efforts, not solo mavericks who want to build connections to people around them and adventure through life’s experiences… I craved genuine connection, mutual respect and honesty… Empathy! But when you have a family legacy of being a cornerstone in the church, how do you even begin to express that you see the world as more than just a place to live and die and then go to some kind of eternity – especially when the very idea of that eternity is with those who continue to oppress and subject you to coercion because of who you are.
At 14, after being ridiculed by a girl on asking her out for Valentine’s day, I decided that I didn’t care what the world wanted me to be, I’d be alone if I had to, but I was not going to let ‘it’ define who I was. At 15 while “testifying” (spreading the gospel) and after being asked “Why is this the right way for you?”, I questioned my own commitment to the ‘faith’. It started a journey which led me to understand myself, and more so respect my own feelings, thoughts and convictions.
But being the son of a Minister is not about freedom, even if all my life I was taught that respecting other people’s beliefs is fundamental. Telling my parents I had doubts, did not open the door to being honest with them about my journey. Instead I was threatened “You will believe and go to church if you live under my roof!”. My father’s words destroyed my trust in him. He had betrayed the values he had taught, that believing is a choice, that following the ways of ‘faith’ was a calling, and even if you didn’t, you could still be a good person. My father had stopped our conversation, which I had valued and through which I found connection to him. Christianity from then on meant being untrue to yourself. You had to dismiss your doubts and comply.
I could not comply, the momentum of my Truth was carrying me forward… To what I couldn’t say at the time.
An often overlooked aspect of atheism, one I’m only really starting to see and understand more through my interaction with other atheists, is that meaning in your life and responsibility for it, is very much up to you. There is no rule book, no guide to finding your personal driving force… and there is no need to apologise or explain why you value what you do. The flip side is, that once you’ve revealed yourself, the realisation is both freeing and scary. Through this liberation you are now able to dig into yourself, uncover the hidden beautiful nature of your self. No longer do you have to focus on hiding, or dismissing the soft voice from your depths.
This year, I decided to become more vocal about my atheism and also about the experiences of atheists in our overly ‘religious’ world. In writing, reading, speaking and listening to others’ stories and perspectives, I have been able to touch parts of myself I have hidden and forgotten in the deep recesses of my past. Only now, I don’t feel as if I need to fix them, move away from the pain that was inflicted, or change who I am to accommodate.
The spill over from my disbelief, is that in my life I no longer need to hide who I am, I can be completely open, show vulnerability and empathy to others, without fearing whether I will survive betrayal or not be accepted. This opens doors to relationships of real depth and connection, with mutual respect and acceptance.